The Conscious Activist: Where Activism Meets Mysticism Hot
In this rousing and soulful exploration of the challenges and dilemmas faced by a spiritually aware human rights activist, O’Dea traces his spiritual and activist awakening from his early days in an English seminary school, to his presence in Beirut during the Sabra and Shatila Massacre. Historical reminiscences are set against reflective passages where O'Dea discusses the initiations and challenges of full-time activism.
On the eve of The Gulf War in 1991, Amnesty International was about to release a human rights report critical of Saddam Hussein's atrocities in Kuwait. With public opinion about the war hanging in the balance, the White House pressured O'Dea for a copy the report, which O'Dea reluctantly sent over on the understanding that it not be leaked early. Three days later, the White House broke the embargo, putting their spin on the story and owning the media coverage.
Said O'Dea of the incident, “How can we change the world when it is so entangled in complexity?” This book provides a compelling roadmap.
Every so often a book comes along that you feel is just so right for the times; such a book is The Conscious Activist. At a time when acts of violence of unspeakable brutality seem to be proliferating, not only in distant war-torn lands, but even in our usually peaceful communities, we are at a loss to make sense of them – much less to know how to stop them.
As a front-line activist and head of the Washington office of Amnesty International, James has both seen the lowest expressions of human viciousness and the most elevated expressions of human forgiveness and compassion. But no one can sustain a steady diet of brutality without deep reserves of spiritual connection. This is what he discovered when he hit the wall and burnt out.
The turning point for O’Dea came with the murder of a 12-year-old Pakistani boy who had been chained to a carpet making loom at the age of four, escaped at age 8, and then turned activist and inspired people around the world to defend the rights of children. The healing for him came through study and encounters with amazing spiritual teachers, as well as through his teaching and work for global peace.
He realized that an activist needs vision, a sense of hope and possibility, as well as what he calls equipoise, balancing action with compassion and connecting instinct to a higher source that will be a rudder in navigating complexity. Equally, it is not enough for the mystic to bliss out in the transcendent realms. As the Dalai Lama said, "it is not enough to be compassionate – one must act."
He points out that it will take more than activism to change the world; it will take a total shift in consciousness as well as a new integration of spirit and action. The way to that shift, he suggests, is by acknowledging our connection to each other and learning to access the field of universal consciousness of which we are a part. What used to be the realm of the scientist is now the realm of the activist and mystic as well.
We are in an intense evolutionary phase, he says, shedding old hierarchical identities and evolving toward a larger shared human identity, but “now we have a map: we are connected to the radiance of the underlying source of all existence, and invited to reflect it into a world that gets dazzled and distracted by its own shallow glitter."
A profound book with a vitally important message.